The old saying of “prove me wrong” was used a lot when I was growing up. The thought and motivation behind the statement is to get the other person to step up and prove your idea, ability, or skills.
As I grew in my own leadership I found that statement inherently flawed. When I wanted my people to step up, I lead with the statement, “Prove me right.” One word makes a huge difference.
Starting in a positive place
When you tell someone to prove you wrong, you are starting out from a negative perspective. You’re saying, “I’d don’t believe in you or your ability to show me otherwise.” This motivator may have worked a generation or two ago, but no one today wants to work for someone that doesn’t believe in them.
Turning the phrase around is still challenging to the other person. “Prove me right,” says that, “Look I believe in you, maybe more than you do, now go validate my trust and belief in your ability.”
Starting out in a positive place as a person tackles a challenge is a valuable boost of energy to get them going.
Encourage them along the way
A leader with a prove me right attitude checks in with their people and see how they are doing to meet their goal. They will support the person through advice, guidance, mentoring, and offering resources for the person to hit that challenge and goal.
Be mindful to check in periodically with the person you offered the challenge to. Make sure that they are staying on track and provide a good environment where they can be transparent with the struggles and questions that they have. If they feel like you are going to be judgemental, not open to listening, or dismissive then they will not open up to you.
A prove me wrong mindset leader waits around until the project deadline is up before they re-engage. This person is going to hit you with, “I told you so,” or a degree of skepticism before they acknowledge your win.
Validate and celebrate
Regardless of the outcome celebrate the effort that the person or team put in to meet the challenge or goal. Maybe they blew away everyone’s’ expectations. Celebrate big with them and point out individual achievements in front of the whole team or a group of people. Perhaps they fell well short of the goal. Take time to celebrate the progress that was made and look back to assess what impacted the final result and what the team could have done differently. Avoid signaling out a person and instead focus on the activities, behaviors, and outside factors that came into play.
Why bother making the distinction?
The difference in the two statements and mindsets is only one word, but you can see how differently they impact your team.
Be intentional in every word that you use when motivating your team. While you may not give it much thought, the wrong word or phrase can linger in a team member’s mind long after you’ve moved on. If you find yourself later regretting what you say, slow down, prepare more ahead of time and stick to your general script.
If you find yourself too scripted, think more in terms of guardrails and step out of your comfort zone to be a little more flexible and authentic in your conversations with others.
Lead your people with the right attitude that lifts them up rather than forcing them to prove their worth to gain your attention. They will perform better, stay longer, and perhaps one day contribute at levels that neither one thought was possible.
Make a better tomorrow.